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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   69
She turned and went out, affecting everybody in the
dugout with her sorrow. Somebody else brought some
frozen bream, another brought flat cakes baked on
hearth-stones, filling the dugout with the sourish, warm
smell of fresh-baked bread.
Seryonka and Fedka came. Removing his forage-cap
with peasant-like gravity Seryonka said: "Good morn-
ing", and placed on the table two lumps of sugar with
crumbs of tobacco and bran on them.
"Mother sent it. Sugar is good for you, eat it," he said,
and turning to Mikhail he added in a business-like tone:
"We've been to the old place again. We found an iron
pot, two spades, almost undamaged, and an axe head.
They may come in handy."
Meanwhile, Fedka, standing behind his brother, looked
with greedy eyes at the sugar on the table and sucked
noisily, as his mouth watered.
Later, when he had pondered over all this, Alexei fully
appreciated the value of these gifts that were brought
to him in the village, about a third of the inhabitants of
which had died of starvation that winter, where there
was not a family that did not mourn the loss of one or
even two of its members.
"Oh, women, women, you are priceless! D'you hear
what I say, Alexei? I say the Russian woman is priceless.
You only have to touch her heart and she will give her
last away, will sacrifice her head if need be. That's what
our women are like. Am I not right?" Grandad Mikhail
would say as he accepted these gifts for Alexei, and then
he would turn again to the job he always had in handó
mending a harness, a horse collar, or a pair of worn-out felt
boots. "And in work too, our women are not behind us
men. To tell the truth, they can give us a point or two!
It's their tongues that I don't like! They'll be the death
of me, those women will be the death of me, I tell you!
When my Anisya died, I thought to myself: "Thank the
Lord, I'll have a bit of quiet now!' But there, you see,
God punished me for it. All our men who were not taken
into the army, all joined the partisans to fight the Ger-
mans, and I, for my sin, became a commander over
women, like a billygoat in a sheep run.... It's hard, I
tell you!"